It arrived this year, as it always does: the fruit box from the in-laws. The white-tissue-wrapped citrus makes December and January our highest vitamin-C-intake/least-scurvy-prone months. But the crate also serves as a reminder that, although we think of lime-filled Margaritas and Caipirinhas as cool summer refreshers, citrus is at its peak during the winter months.
And this goes for more than just the grapefruits in our box. At the bar where I work, limes are plump and juicy right now. During the spring and summer, a half lime will often yield only a paltry quarter ounce of bitter juice. These days it’s more than a half ounce of bright, mouth-watering lime juice. So we’ve been putting the fruit to work in succulent winter cocktails. Here are a few examples of some drinks I’ve been mixing at home and on the job.
Interest in cachaça continues to pick up steam; every month more people ask me about it. A Brazilian spirit distilled from fresh sugarcane juice, good cachaça is more fresh and sunny than typical aged rum. One that caught my eye last year was Weber Haus, which won the “Best White Spirit” category in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (I was a judge). It has some of the loveliest, purest cane aromas you’ll ever sniff. It’s great in a lime Caipirinha, but I tried it with blood oranges and found it equally delicious. In a heavy rocks glass, muddle half a blood orange (cut into quarters) with a quarter lime and about two teaspoons of bar-fine sugar. Add two ounces of cachaça and ice, then throw the lot in a mixing tin for a 10-second shake. Dump it back into your rocks glass and drink.
The most popular tequila drink in Mexico is the Paloma, a mix of tequila and grapefruit soda such as Squirt. Substitute fresh grapefruit juice for the soda and add Campari, and you’ve got a gorgeous drink. Squeeze a half grapefruit—about two ounces’ worth of juice—into a mixing glass and add one and a half ounces of your favorite tequila blanco and a half ounce of Campari. Toss in about a half tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt, then add cracked ice. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass.
And there’s winter’s most celebrated citrus offering: Meyer lemon. With the fruit’s floral, complex, and finely pitched flavor, I like to keep things simple with a classic cocktail: the White Lady, reputedly invented by famed barman Harry MacElhone of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Simply combine two ounces of Miller’s gin, three-quarters of an ounce of Cointreau, and one ounce of freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice with the white of one small egg in a mixing glass. Shake the bejesus out of it to get a good froth from the egg white and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Genius.
A cold shot of citrus in a cocktail may not be what you feel like on a frosty winter night, but it is what nature ordered—or it’s at least what the in-laws ordered.